Creaks and Groans

Part of the reason I ride a bike is because I like the silence. Well its not really silent. But it is quiet. I like the sound road tires make on the pavement. That really cool sound of thin rubber on pavement when you get up to speed. I like the sound mtb tires make on a well cared for piece of single track. I love the sound of a free wheel hub when you are blasting down a hill and the sound of a nicely functioning disk brake when you apply just a little bit to keep yourself under control. I love the sound of heavy breathing when you are climbing a steep pitch at race pace. Yeah, those bike sounds are awesome.

But there is a darker side to the sounds bikes make. Sounds that make my skin crawl. Creaks and groans. Sometimes they start as little ticks that just aren’t supposed to be there. Sometimes the sounds deteriorate into something that sounds like you are torturing your bike torture every time you turn the crank. There is nothing more annoying than being out on a bike ride and having your bike creak and groan. Stand up that hill? You can hear every effort you put onto the cranks. It sounds like your bike could explode. Instead of enjoying the ride every creak and groan reminds you that something is WRONG. I stop enjoying my ride and start thinking about that sound. I hate that.

Creaking and groaning? Yeah, that drives me crazy.

Sometimes the fix is easy. Clean your bike. Lube your chain. Sometimes its not so obvious.

When I got back from ORAMM my bike started with little creaks. At that time I was more concerned about the fact that I only had one working brake to worry about the creak. Because of my lack of brakes I was forced to spend a lot of time on my road bike. In Connecticut last week it got worse. By Saturday when I rode with Bailey I had had enough. The bike was a creaking, groaning disaster. Uphill, downhill, standing, sitting, pedaling, coasting. It didn’t matter. It was a bike riding nightmare. Nonstop torture. To top it off this is THE bike I am bringing with me to Michigan while I am on sabbatical. It has to be in top shop because I will not have any backup.

I decided I needed to fix it even though they are sometimes they are very very hard to find.

Now, lots of times those creaks and groans come from the drive train. It’s a good place to start. Two things argued against those as the source in this case. These noises seamed independent of the drive train. Pedaling or coasting it didn’t matter. My bottom bracket was replaced before ORAMM and it was highly unlikely that it went out again. I did check my cranks to make sure they were tight. They were.

My bike is a Salsa El Mariachi Ti.

elmariachi_3

One of the cool features about this bike are the dropouts. Salsa devised this thing they call “alternator dropouts“.

These dropouts were designed to allow Salsa bikes to convert between geared and SS. The dropouts allow you to tension the chain AND they do it in such a way that you do not need to adjust the disk brakes when you make the change. The brakes are mounted to the dropout and rotate with the dropout. As you tension the chain the brakes move with the dropout and wheel so no brake adjustment is needed. Very nice. As a bonus, if you loose your rear derailleur you can bypass it, tension the chain and wham instant SS. Great in an emergency is say you are out riding Tour Divide or something.

Now. Lots of times creaking noises come from metal on metal rubbing. The one spot on my bike where metal rubs and can potentially creak is in the dropouts. I checked them and the bolts seamed tight. But I decided to take them off and given them a good cleaning. This would be ignoring “Salsa Alternator Dropout Advantage #5″: minimal maintenance.

There was a fair bit of dirt on both the frame and dropout (and in between) which I cleared off. Then I again ignored “advantage #5″ and put a thin layer of grease on the dropout before I put them back on. My thought was that a little layer of lubrication would reduce and metal on metal creaks. (And if this was a totally stupid idea I could easily wipe it off and be non the worse.)

When I was done….Ha! No more creaks. My training ride on my newly silenced bike was pure torture, but it was because of the ride, not the bike. Nice.

(Authors note: I also serviced and lubed my dropper post. That is SUPPOSED to be cleaned and lubed periodically. Maybe that was it instead of the dropouts. Humm…… :) )

Review: Rusch to Glory

I have a friend who has a pretty good bike focused blog. Usually I rely on him for biking related book reviews. He does a good job, knows a little bit about biking and writing, and isn’t afraid to call it like he sees it. But he has a problem. See there is a new bike-bio out. It’s called Rusch to Glory and it was written by Rebecca Rusch. Now that in and of itself isn’t a big problem. Like I say he knows a thing or two about bikes and biking (well except for repairing bikes, but well you can’t be good at everything right ;) ). Nope the problem is that he has become hopelessly smitten with Reba and has declared that he cannot do a review on the book. Heck, he was the emcee at the book release in Leadville this year. I figured I would pick up the slack for him and try my best to do a review of the book so he wouldn’t feel guilty about leaving this huge gap in the literary bike world. (You can thank me later Fatty.)

I should be up front here. I have ridden with Reba four times. Three times in Willmington and once in Leadville, though I must say I didn’t even get to say “hi” to her there. I have had two sweaty hugs from her. Even have pictures to prove it.

doug_rebecca

(2012 Willmington/Whiteface 100k: My first ever race. Reba asked if I was THE Fat Cyclist. I replied, No, just A fat cyclist. It didn’t seam to matter.)

wilmington_2014_doug_and_rebecca

(2014 Willmington/Whiteface 100k: That’s Reba laughing when I told her that I was being sponsored by Fatty this year in my racing. I told her he paid me $5 to be on his team. She thought this was hilarious.)

Reba and I are friends (well Facebook friends anyway). All of this is my long winded way of saying, I am not entirely unbiased either.

So with that disclaimer firmly in place, onto the book.

I want to start out by saying I don’t think you have to be an adventure racer or crazy biker to enjoy this book. Rebecca is easily approachable through the book much like she is in real life. The stories are fun, gross, sad, spirited and motivational. They are about being alive and experiencing life. The core messages contain something that everyone should be able to relate to.

What I expect when I read a bio is to understand when I am finished what makes that person tick. I want to know how they came to the place they are at and what got them there. And I want to feel like they are telling ME their story. In those regards the book does a pretty good job. Rebecca starts the book starts out by talking about growing up. I learned that she was a lot like most of us “regular people” as a kid. Kind of athletic, poor self body image, not at all what you would expect from someone who would become a world class endurance athlete. That somehow made the adventures that would follow more relatable to me. (On a personal level, being the same age, both having fathers who served in Vietnam, and having listened to the same music in high school didn’t hurt, though I do no think that is either required or important to enjoy the book.)

The Good

I learned a couple of things about Rebecca by reading the book. Coming from the cycling world, and only knowing of her from that realm, I was unaware of her experience as an Adventure Racer. I didn’t even know you could be a professional Adventure Racer. The stories of her races in this arena are vivid and descriptive (I do not think I will ever be able to get some of the mental pictures I have from the leech section out of my mind). As expected she details the highs and lows of the actual races. If you enjoy reading about crazy physical exploits or “why the heck would you do that on purpose” stories than these sections are a lot of fun.  It filled in the gaps in Rebecca’s career that I didn’t know about.

One of the things the book does really well is to show that even “The Queen of Pain” has limits and edges to her comfort zone. She talks about getting sweaty palms when she climbs and needing a lot of chalk to keep her hands dry. She pushes her limits and boundaries by training, by preparation and by surrounding herself with people who know more than she does so she can learn from them. You get a good sense about the mental strength required for endurance sports, but you also learn that these athletes are not reckless, just dedicated. While doing this, Rebecca highlights the importance of the interpersonal aspects of team building and racing under extreme conditions. Even in “solo” competitions, Rebecca stresses the need for a highly functioning team to be successful.

I was surprised to learn that Rebecca did not in fact like mountain biking. It was a part of adventure racing, but not one that she embraced, just survived. In fact, mountain biking was something that Rebecca really and truly got into after adventure racing because people pushed her into it. I could totally relate to the stories of her early races where she felt like a technically inferior rider. She described the fear she had of technical courses, as well as the fear she had of being out of her league in races. It made her feel more real to me. Heck, if Rebecca Rusch has felt out of her league in a mountain bike race, well then I am in good company and its OK to have those feelings! I think anyone who has been at the top of a steep technical section and wondered if they should do this (and then rolled the bike over the lip anyway) can relate. Really anyone who starts a new sport or venture and wonders what they have gotten themselves into should be able to relate.

The Bad

I felt the book was mis-titled. I read the book and did not get a sense that Rebecca was looking for, or “Rusching” towards “glory”. The message I got from the book was that her drive is much more internal. It was clear that Rebecca is driven by competition. Winning while important, seamed to be important only so that she could continue being sponsored and doing the kinds of things she loves to do. What was clear was that in the end she is trying to become the best she can be. Reading the sections on body boarding the Colorado river or riding the Kokopelli Trail demonstrated this internal motivation. Like I say, I didn’t see the rushing to “glory” aspect.

The Ugly

Just read the section on the leeches and you will understand the ugly.

In the End

I really enjoyed reading Rusch To Glory. The book is well written and easy to read. I learned a lot about Rebecca from reading it. I also learned something about myself. I learned that I have another gear that I have yet to discover (and that its not too late to discover it).

(On a personal note. If you ever have the chance to ride with Rebecca you should do it. The first year I raced Willmington I did not do the pre-ride with Reba and Dave Weins. I was intimidated by the prospect of riding with them. That was a mistake. There was no reason to be intimidated. They are the most down to earth, approachable “pros” I know. Riding with them is like riding with old friends. Racing with them, while fun, is an exercise in humility, but that is a different story.)

 

Cursed

We have a great set of trails about 20 minutes from my house that are semi-technical in nature. There is nothing really crazy like drops or ledges but its not a smooth flowy trail. There are lots of rocks and roots. There are lots of steep sections that range from little kickers to larger climbs with a bunch of switchbacks on them. There are bridges and stream crossings. Its a fun place to get out and play. I am also starting to think that I am jinxed when I go out to those trails.

I rode those trails once last year and came home bleeding with a broken bike. I haven’t been back since then. Mostly because it takes some time and effort to get out there. I seamed to be busy this year whenever I wanted to go. But Bailey was looking to ride something harder than we had been riding and I wanted to spend some time with him before I leave for a couple of months. So out we went on Saturday.

Bailey’s experience was an exercise in frustration. Learning how to keep momentum on the short steep kickers, often not getting up those hills, but sometimes succeeding. Learning how to get up and down switchbacks. Again often not making the corners but sometimes doing so. Balancing over narrow bridges. He had a good time and wants to go back even though it was a tough day for him on the bike. Good for him. I was glad to see that. The ride was perfect for him.

Me? I am not sure I want to go back there. Things were going fine until about an hour into our ride. I was enjoying being on my bike and riding with Bailey. Yeah it was frustrating to me to have Bailey stall out in front of me which forced me off my bike. Yeah, I was ready to go a little faster and try the place out for real. But…..

You know,  its been a pretty good year for me riding. I have not really wrecked myself on on trails this year. Sure I have a pretty good set of scars on my arm from a run in with a tree earlier this year, but that was bad luck and not really bad riding (something about running into a blown-down tree around a blind corner). That kind of ended Saturday.

I went down a little hill and onto some flat rocks that crossed a stream. After the stream is a steep bank that you have to get some momentum on to get up. I stood to pull myself up the bank, applied some power to the pedals and wham. My foot came unclipped from my pedal. This in and of itself is not a problem except that the momentum of my leg drove my knee into the top tube on my bike. My knee exploded into pain. I stopped to gather myself. Bailey looked back and asked if I was ok.

I knew what had happened and I thought that it was just a bruise. (Still I didn’t look down because I didn’t want to know). Just give me a minute. I put my head down and just breathed for a minute or so. We were about a mile from the car. And then I got back onto my bike and started pedaling. After a little bit it loosened back up enough that I was able to get up the hills and finish the ride. We loaded up the bikes and headed home.

By the time we got home I had cooled down and my leg stiffened up to the point where it was hard to bend my knee at all. Downerville State Forest strikes again.

Addendum #1: My knee is fine. It’s just bruised. Some ice and advil have really helped it out. I rested yesterday and will give it a go today. Probably light, but who knows.

Addendum #2: I was not the most injured person out there Saturday. When Bailey and I were finishing our ride I heard a kid scream and then start crying. I biked quickly over to where I heard the sound. There was a little boy (like 8 or so) with dirt on his face and blood on his lips crying. His mom and dad were there. They had taken him riding. The boy had gone down a steep hill and hit a rock. He launched himself about 10 ft over the handlebars of his bike. The kid was on a kids bike with 18″ wheels. I said to the dad (while looking down at the small bike with no suspension and the crying kid), “Have you guys ever been out here before? This is not the easiest place to be biking.”  “Yeah, we were just going to go ride Slingshot.” Slingshot is a steep switchbacked downhill section of the trails. Humm….. I am pretty sure there was a discussion in that car on the way back home based on the look the mom gave the dad.

Fall and Sabbatical and Life

I was supposed to be racing on Saturday in the Race With the Wind. This is a local race that I did two years ago with my son and wife.

fat bohls

Last year they didn’t hold it (something about the guy who was running it doing “funny” things with the money) but this year it was revived. Then, no one signed up. Well we signed up and so did about 3 other people, so they cancelled it. The Hampshire 100 is this weekend. That was going to be my back up race (actually it is a WAY better race, but farther away, and my family could not ride in it). But life is getting in the way a little bit.

This year my work is a little different. I am on sabbatical. That’s the big prize for being a faculty member. Every 7 years or so they pay you to not work at the university where you work. Crazy huh? The idea is that you should go somewhere else or do something else that helps you grow professionally and that re-charges you, so that you are excited and energetic at the place you actually do work. So this year, no teaching, no committees (well I am still on a couple, but they are good ones and I want to be on them). I am going to be in Michigan this fall at Michigan State doing research and writing papers with my PhD adviser. I am also bringing my 12 year old son Noah with me for this adventure. He will be going to school out there for 3 months. We will be living a bachelors life (without icky girls ;) ).

doug and noah-1

We leave exactly 2 weeks from today. There is a lot of planning and preparation that needs to be done before I go. The long and the short of it is that I don’t really have time to get out of dodge for 3 days to do a bike race. And so Hampshire 100 is out. (Authors note: One of the things I was really excited about at Hampshire was the water crossing. Reported to be anywhere from ankle deep to waste deep depending on how wet it is. We have a lot of rain coming today. Could have been very exciting!)

So I find myself in a strange situation. All trained up. With a bike that now has TWO set of brakes, front AND back (how exciting is that???). And a racing season that is essentially over. Or is it?

Michigan seems to have a pretty good MTB culture going on. They have a state wide XC series that has 10 races in it. Two are in September. Those two are both about an hour away from where we will be staying. Both have kids divisions. I talked with Noah and he is up for a couple of races.

Should be fun.

(Now if I can only figure out how to be a single dad of a 12 year old and arrange child care for an 8 hour bike race in October….. Uh, either way is just fine. Looking forward to some quality time with Noah. It’s a good trade off!)

volunteers

Adventure by Bike

Authors Note: Leadville is today. I find myself wishing I was in Colorado. Getting ready to race and trying to eat pancakes right now.

leadville_sign-1

Ah well. Where I am is where I am supposed to be this year. And it’s not all bad….

I changed the grips on my MTB a month or so ago. And when I took my grips off I saw this message that my friends at Salsa Bikes left for me:

adventure_by_bike-1

Yesterday I think I took the spirit of this note to heart. I am in CT and had a 4 Hour “Ride How you Feel on Trails” ride on my training schedule. This ride is one of my favorites. Ride, forget the whole heart monitor thing. Just ride. And so I did. Adventure By Bike.

We are in Connecticut this weekend to visit with family. (Which is why I am “OK” with not being in Leadville right this very moment, and not home feeling sorry for myself.) Near my mother-in-laws house is the Metacomet Trail. This is a trail that runs north to south in central Connecticut. It’s designated as a hiking and mountain bike trail and it was my destination for yesterday. And on a MTB, well its an adventure.

I have ridden this trail once before. I remember it being more of a hiking trail than a riding trail having spent a good portion of my time hiking my bike. This trail is rocky, as rocky as anything I have ever been on. There are times when this trail feels like you are riding on one of those Crystal Growing kits you can get at a museum gift shop. You know, the ones that grow the spiky crystals. When you ride on this stuff you know that this is a bike eating, body damaging place to be. It has rock gardens on steep rises to challenge your skills on a bike.

metacomet1-1

This time I rode a lot more than I walked. I am feeling stronger technically and the trail, while challenging was more fun and less frustrating this time. It was still hard since I don’t know the lines. But when I got off my bike I looked and saw how most of the parts could be ridden. And sometimes I went back and tried them again.

My little voice reminded me that I was alone and really pretty far away from help, but I managed to keep the voice in check. (Hello Yeti ;) )

The rewards for getting off the beaten path? Well you see things that you wouldn’t normally see

metacomet2-1

Like a two story fireplace sitting out on the middle of the mountain top along with the chimney from what must have been the servants house

metacomet3-1

The mountains in Connecticut are old and worn. They are not high, but they are steep. And even here they provide a view of the land that you don’t get from the bottom.

metacomet4-1

A little bit of adventure in the back yard. It was a great ride.

Now if you will excuse me I need to look at the live feed from Leadville. And think about what I was feeling like last year at this time.

doug_leadville_ready

And remember that it wasn’t all fun and games

leadville_after

leadville_drained1-1

And send my friends who are riding strength.

And to think about the fact that my good friend Jenni said “So what are you going to do differently next time?”

And to realize that……..

Brakes… Do you really need them?

Before I went to North Carolina I mention that I was a bit irritated about the state of my local bike shops. Well here is an update.

I have since learn that the mechanic who worked on my brakes made a couple of mistakes and actually broke them in the process of bleeding them. The critical error was using a mineral oil that he purchased from a drug store. The problem with that was that the mineral oil he used was WAY to viscous (the Shimano oil is more like water, that was more like honey). The result was that he blew out the seals on the reservoir. To his credit he has stood up and said he would either fix them or replace them. He’s young, and he’s learning, but that was a big move on his part.

Now the exciting part. I only have front brakes right now! (I did replace the pads, so at least they are good front brakes!)

But as one of my friends said to me: “You’re a ‘racer’! Brakes just slow you down.

Going to be an exciting ride on some semi-technical trails today.

More news later. Wish me luck :D

No luck needed. Weight back when braking Meat!

Update 2:06 pm: No crashes, but it was a lot less fun with just front brakes. Like to mix in a little back on the steep technical stuff. But I survived. The HS MTB team kids had fun on the “hard” trails. Have not shown them hard yet. These were medium ;)

Leadville and ORAMM

A little under a week has passed since I finished ORAMM. The 2014 Leadville Trail 100 is set to go off on Sunday (not for me ;) ). I have been thinking on the two experiences and what they mean to me. ORAMM has provide a bit of a counterpoint to what happened to me at Leadville last summer. Both were great, challenging fun experiences, but somehow Leadville still has a hold on me. There is a very distinct difference to me between Leadville and ORAMM. It’s the aura and mystic.

What makes Leadville a truly big event is…well… that it is an event. It’s more than a race. It’s something people dedicate themselves to.

Both ORAMM and Leadville were well run. The courses were well marked and well supported. Both races are hard. Finishing them says something about who you are (perhaps a little crazy in both cases). I have no complaints or qualms about saying the ORAMM is a super fun, well run race. The course is challenging, and in many ways its a more fun mountain bike course than Leadville is. I would definitely like to go back there and race again. But I want to go back to Leadville to EXPERIENCE it again. I struggle a little bit with putting the difference in words. It’s a feeling, something from deep inside.

ORAMM feels like some guys got together and created a race. I guess I would say it has a more grassroots feel. Old Fort, where ORAMM starts and ends, doesn’t really have much. Coreen commented that they really missed and opportunity to take advantage of the race. I agree.

Leadville is big. I went to that race and I felt like the entire town was part of the race. Yeah, the race has become more “corporate” but it still felt like something that the town embraced. Personally, I think they have done a good job of keeping that grassroots spirit. We can argue about the size of the field, the difficulties of getting into the race, and the unfairness of the “lottery”, but at the core it feels like a community supported event. I felt like for a short time I was a part of Leadville. I didn’t get that feeling at ORAMM.

Along with that, Leadville is something that people bring their families to. It feels like something more than a race.

In the Race Across the Sky movie one of the people being interviewed talked about going through the aid stations. He compared it to being at “le Tour”. Noise, kids, people, everywhere. That’s one of my fondest memories. Twin Lakes aid station was a half a mile of tents and people out there to cheer and support the riders. Riding through that chaos was totally, totally cool. Even having to dodge riders and spectators was fun. Unless you have experienced it, you just don’t know.

The aura and mystic extend to the course. For this eastern kid, big sky mountains are amazing. Being able to see the entire 3600 ft climb you are about to go up. Seeing that the trees stop at some point. Even not being able to breathe. Awesome.

Maybe the difference is simply that because I finished Leadville I knew that I could do ORAMM. Maybe because Leadville was the first really big race I did it is more special. Maybe its because Leadville is hard to get into and ORAMM is relatively easy it has an extra aura.

I don’t think so though. If someone offered me a ticket to Leadville next week I would go in a heartbeat. (Well to crew and to experience not to do. My legs are still shot from ORAMM! And I am still fixing my bike. And except for the fact that I am going to CT to see family and the newly sided cottage. Stoked for that.)

Good Luck to my friends Elden, Lisa and Dave who are racing on Sunday. Be strong, be safe, and enjoy the experience. Soak it in. I wish I could be there to hand you all bottles and make noise!